China is on the cusp of surpassing the US as the world’s biggest economy based on purchasing power, at least a decade sooner than many expected. That is the conclusion of the April report of the International Comparison Program, undertaken under the auspices of the World Bank – a report that China apparently tried to suppress. Those familiar with the effort indicate that Chinese advisers and surrogates waged a rearguard effort for at least a year, seeking to undermine the methodology and data on which the work was based.
On one level, China’s resistance to being labelled number one is somewhat at odds with the country’s longstanding obsession with building wealth and power. Chinese officials might be expected to bask in such statistical accolades, given the relentless quest the nation has undertaken. But instead the Chinese leadership has demurred, doing everything in its power to discredit the report and distance itself from the conclusion.
There are probably several reasons. Undoubtedly, there are political implications for Beijing if there is a growing perception of China’s ascendancy and a changing of the guard. American policy makers might take a harsher view on macroeconomic policy trends and trade policies practised by China. They could also re-evaluate many aspects of America’s presence in the Asia-Pacific region. At some level, China understands something quite profound about the US that perhaps even American citizens struggle with. The US will not go quietly into the night. America has grown accustomed, psychologically and politically, to being first among equals on the global stage. China is in no rush to assume that mantle.
Another reason for China’s coyness is that the country has yet to embrace a global role commensurate with its increasing status. It has practised, in the words of the noted Sinologist Susan Shirk, a policy of “shallow engagement”. This enables it to enjoy the benefits of being a major power while suffering few of the burdens. China has been content to drift behind other leading states. It wants the global respect but does not want to pick up the bill.
This is slowly changing. China is assisting in the international effort to address the mass kidnapping of almost 300 schoolgirls by Boko Haram, an Islamist terrorist group, in Nigeria. Still, the ambivalence remains. Part of this reflects a belief in China that the rules of the global road were written by others. Instead, it has been mostly preoccupied with using its accumulating power to achieve national advantages in maritime disputes and trade disagreements.
Chinese reticence extends to a domestic audience as well. To poor and downtrodden Chinese citizens living in poverty who still struggle to make ends meet, the idea that this is what number one looks like might trigger a larger examination about state priorities. For instance, China has spent enormous sums in the last generation building up its military might while the health of the natural environment has suffered greatly with few reliable national standards for the health of water, air or food. There is no national safety net to help the old or less fortunate. China recognises that it has an enormous distance to go in achieving domestic development and addressing still enormous gaps between haves and have nots.
In this respect, the report from the International Comparison Program was most unwelcome for the Chinese leadership. In China today, there is only consensus around building national power – but little real agreement over what to do with that power once achieved, either abroad or most particularly at home.
The writer is chairman and chief executive of The Asia Group and on the board of the Center for a New American Security. From 2009-13 he served as the assistant US secretary of state for east Asian and Pacific affairs
以购买力平价计算，中国马上就要超越美国成为世界第一大经济体，比许多人预计的至少早了10年。这是世界银行(World Bank)主办的国际比较计划（International Comparison Program，以下简称ICP）4月报告得出的结论，中国明显想抵制这份报告。知情人士指出，中国的顾问和代理人至少在一年前就展开防御，试图说明该报告所依据的方法和数据站不住脚。
注：本文作者是亚洲集团(Asia Group)主席兼首席执行官、新美国安全中心(Center for a New American Security)董事。2009年至2013年担任美国东亚及太平洋事务助理国务卿。